Sunday, March 14, 2010

This Just In: Texas Rewrites U.S. History

According to The New York Times, the Texas Board of Education voted last week to radically revise future U.S. History and Economics textbooks. While supporters see the revisions as "correcting a liberal bias" that has pervaded contemporary education, detractors see the changes as nothing short of a "re-write of history." What everyone agrees is that the changes spin major issues in U.S. History in a decidedly right-wing direction, putting a "conservative stamp" on issues ranging from the nation's founding to contemporary issues such as civil rights. Since Texas is one of the largest buyers of textbooks nationwide, the revisions can have a substantial ripple effect across the nation.

Some of the most surprising changes are these:
  • The elimination of the word "capitalism" in favor of "free-enterprise system" because of the latter's more positive connotations.
  • A plank on the internment of Italians and Germans during the war (however small their comparative numbers) "to dispel the notion that the internment of Japanese-Americans was motivated by racism."
  • The elimination of Thomas Jefferson from a section on "thinkers who inspired 18th and 19th Century revolutions" -- in favor of St. Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin -- mostly because of Jefferson's phrase "separation of church and state," which members of the religious right have long opposed.
  • An amendment saying students should study “the unintended consequences” of the Great Society legislation, affirmative action and Title IX legislation.
  • Insistence that students study evidence confirming suspicion of communist infiltration into the U.S. in order to tamp down on criticism of the McCarthy Era excesses.
  • The insistence on adding information on the Black Panther party to "highlight violent civil rights leaders" in addition to the non-violent Dr. King.
  • The refusal to add any new biographical information on significant Latino contributions to U.S. History.
Do any of these surprise you? What do you make of this latest reconstruction to the on-going battle of the narrative of U.S. History?


BFlan said...

I think this latest reconstruction is an attempt to destroy the idea that the United States has had a racist history. One line in particular shocked me:

"The insistence on adding information on the Black Panther party to "highlight violent civil rights leaders" in addition to the non-violent Dr. King."

As a nation that enslaved black people, I think we should give civil rights leaders a break. I do not believe in violent civil rights movements, but I think studying what these leaders were trying to achieve is more important.

Bob P said...

I believe that the Texas Board of Education is reconstructing history to fit whatever mold it has decided on. "Highlighting violent civil rights leaders" is a way to dim the light on the achievements made from non-violent leaders. What surprised me most were the lines, dispelling the "notion that the internment of Japanese-Americans was motivated by racism" and studying the "unintended consequences" of legislation of affirmative action. These are just masking dim points in American history, effectively tearing out unwanted pages in the narrative of U.S. History. The Texas Board of Education is changing the focus in that narrative, like authors of historical texts do when writing their historical textbooks, and this way the Texas Board of Education can insert its own agenda into the classroom.

Kevin S. said...

This doesn't surprise me at all. There are so many people who insist on creating their own "reality". Anyone can find a media outlet that agrees with them. Anyone can search online and meet groups of people that support their ideas. They think that it is possible to shield themselves, and now their children, from opposing points of view.

How can they justify removing information about Latino leaders? What are the implications of having 50% Hispanic students in Texas yet no Hispanic role models in textbooks? It seems delusional.

Molly Hunt said...

I think that all textbooks unfortunately harbor at least some degree of political bias; I've read plenty of left wing history books, and it doesn't surprise me that people are trying to combat that with right wing books.

However, I agree with Kevin that it is ridiculous to not add information on latino contributions to U.S. history. Texas does have a significant Latino population, and the state borders on mexico; the state should at least put the information in to motivate those students.

I think that a textbook should be created by a team of both liberal and conservative historians in order to try and eliminate biases whenever possible, and if it isn't possible, showcase multiple sides to the history. If this has been done successfully, let me know- i'd like to take a look.

nathans said...

This "re-construction" is almost a nearly comedic level for me. The fact that Texas of all states feels that textbooks aren't conservative enough is hardly surprising. As one of the nation's most red states it is easy to see that the politicians are using their clout to reconstruct history in their state.
A passage I found particularly was:

"Insistence that students study evidence confirming suspicion of communist infiltration into the U.S."

I couldn't help but laugh when I read this, as this is the same type of ideals that were perpetuated in the sixties to justify the invasion of Vietnam.

I believe it is nearly impossible to create a textbook that is un-biased, so I think there should be a committee of some sort that decides the appropriate material to cover. I would say we could make a nationwide series of textbooks but I feel this is a slightly too socialist approach.

Claire said...

I was taken aback by the change with Italian/German internment "to dispel the notion that the internment of Japanese-Americans was motivated by racism". Like BFlan said, it seems like the Texas Board is trying to deny the racist actions of the past. As the saying goes, "those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it". If the Texas Board, and the United States for that matter, do not want to make the same sort of racist action again, then U.S. history during WWII should not be edited in that particular way.

No one will ever truly know what it means to be an American if we lie about our past. Self-awareness comes from understanding, not by denying our actions in the past.

Lizzy said...

What I found most interesting about this article was that it seems to contradict a saying that I used to believe in: "Whoever wins the war gets to write history". Texas was technically a part of the losing side during the civil war, and, at least to someone living in a very blue state, history has always seemed to me to take a very liberal viewpoint. Maybe this rewrite indicates that America is finally whole again after our civil war, but I honestly don't believe that the negative sentiments between the North and South will ever disappear. Due to this, I believe that Texas is setting a precedent of a "losing side" writing history that will have intriguing consequences in years to come.

MMarin said...


These all kind of surprise me. The two that most disturb me are about Japanese Internment and the highlighting of violent civil rights leaders for the Black Panthers. Both of these revisions of history seem to have the purpose of making America's history of prejudiced actions 'more okay' by showing how white people had it not-so-great sometimes, too. While it's good to know violent black civil rights movements existed, I think it's still an interesting choice to have made, of all things to include, and coupled with the Japanese Internment change, it seems to serve mainly to de emphasize our racist past rather than expand peoples' understanding.

Removing Jefferson's line is also shocking to me, as a separation of church and state is really fundamental to the US, being essentially what made it different from other governments in the past... and being what our first amendment is essentially based on. There's no real question there.

I can perhaps understand some frustration with a 'liberal bias in academia' but I don't think the non-hypocritical solution to that is revising textbooks to have a strongly conservative bias.

Texas Board of Education = Texas Board of Politicians...?

StoneA said...

It really upsets me to see changes like this. If the textbooks and curriculum did in fact have a liberal bias, the right course of action wouldn't be switching to a conservative curriculum. This kind of curriculum leaves no room for students to come up with there own conclusions. I think the right course of action is presenting students with dry history, untainted by political bias, and letting them speculate over the motives, intentions, and ethics embedded in the past. I truly think that almost everyone of the changes listed are unnecessary and in some cases promote ignorance. The only change that I think is somewhat sensible is the one created to, "highlight violent civil rights leaders". Honestly, I have never had a full length unit covering the civil rights movement in a history class. I really have only learned about Dr. King and his non-violent movement. I agree with Michelle's point, "of making America's history of prejudiced actions 'more okay' by showing how white people had it not-so-great sometimes". However, I have never learned anything about the civil rights movement except that Dr. King was an extraordinary man who used peaceful means to destroy the racial divide. I think that pretending Dr. King was the only figure of the civil rights movement is a bad as only learning about Malcolm X and the Black Panthers would be. The solution to bias is never moving to the opposite end of the spectrum, finding a middle ground is always best.

Sam H said...

About Bflan's comment on violent civil rights leaders, a few months ago, there was a piece on NPR about MLK and his connections to Malcom X. Although the two never really saw eye to eye, the interviewee said that at the march on Washington, X was decidedly pacifist until the whites became violent.

And to Michelle, the separation of church and state may seem essential to your (and my) interpretation of America, but many of America's values match up with those of Christianity. I believe that America would have come to the conclusion that murder is wrong without the bible, but many people do not agree. Now, as we leave the ideals of the bible (arguably) with gay marriage, evolution, and abortion, Christians feel that there is not a huge leap before you legalize murder.

On the whole recreation of history, it goes to show the world is nothing but a construction. Anyone who tells you that there is an absolute truth of America's history is wrong (I realize the irony of that absolute truth statement). Of course I prefer the 'liberal' idea of American history because I think that it will make the future of America more liberal. But what if I only hold those beliefs because of my 'liberal' childhood?

Anna.S said...

Like many above me, I find these subtractions as a creation of gaping holes in the study of the United States. The last mention of refusing to add any mentions of a Latino contribution to the textbooks was shocking, because, as far as my friends who live there mention to me, there is quite a large Latino population in Texas.

As far as the civil rights movement went, there were obviously some parties that were, perhaps, violent--but not without reason. Violence is rarely justifiable, but when speaking of the civil rights movement, one cannot help but to think that it is certainly understandable to have violent factions of the anti-segregation party. But to focus on the violence, and not on the motivations or the rest of the "big picture" is certainly problematic.

I wonder what the textbooks they use now are like.

Morgan L said...

Especially during conversations about Huck Finn we all agreed that in the past African-Americans were treated as unequal, and that the country was generally racists.

By adding the Black Panther party to "highlight violent civil rights leaders" to act as an opposing argument to Dr. King's non-violent actions seems wrong. While violent civil rights acts occurred they definitly should not be put on the same level of importance as Dr. King.

I agree with Brian in that Texas is trying to make our past generations seem less racists. However, our country was and I think that it is important that we recognize that in order to see that it is wrong. However, in a southern, conservative state such as Texas, maybe not everyone believes it is wrong which is why they want to rewrite history in this way as to make them not seem as though they were not completely wrong in their actions (even though that is an awful thing to be teaching children).

Drew said...

Although many of these seemed like too much to me, the change concerning the McCarthy era and its policies surprised me the most. The change, to be specific, is the "Insistence that students study evidence confirming suspicion of communist infiltration into the U.S. in order to tamp down on criticism of the McCarthy Era excesses." During our project on civil liberties during wartime, I studied the Cold War, specifically focusing on the actions of McCarthy and his followers. And the fact is, after looking at many different sources, both primary and secondary, is that McCarthy's era was a time of manipulation and fear. McCarthy fed on the public's fear of communists to gain power, and then used fear and intimidation to shut down his critics, even his fellow senators. The only "evidence" McCarthy used was a compiled state list of members of the government who raised red flags, whether it be from drinking, abuse, or treason. Not only would McCarthy have been on that list himself because of his drinking, but no one on the list was confirmed to be a communist spy in the government. The fact that the Texas government would try to defend his clearly wrong and excessive actions with lies is a blatant attempt to rewrite history based on personal agenda versus the facts that are present.

Katie O. said...

What interests me most is that many of us are not surprised at the changes. It is interesting that we have become so immune to these types of biases that should not be tolerated. It actually didn't surprise me either that history books are constructed to fit a certain reality that the people who write and edit it want to believe. The thing I thought was the most astonishing was the deliberate " elimination of Thomas Jefferson from a section on "thinkers who inspired 18th and 19th Century revolutions" It is funny to think that people writing a so called history book think that removing a legendary historical figure that had views opposite of theirs will erase them completely. It seems to me that history books are no longer about the history, but about the politics and emotions behind the stories inside these books. Behind every book is a human who can't help but put their own emotions into the text. However, when you are writing an educational book, based on fact, crucial historical figures and events should be depicted truthfully and not skewed for the authors own pleasure

Anonymous said...

Many people have already commented about the addition of information about violent civil rights parties such as the Black Panther group. The phrase that stuck out most to me was the description of why these new text books are adding this information; "to highlight violent civil rights leaders". To me, this statement made the creators of these new texts books seem racist. It seems that the writers are adding this in to portray civil rights leaders and minorities as violent and different from functional "white society". If the writers said they were adding this section to expand the information of the civil rights movement, I wouldn't feel that the writers had a racial bias. However, since they specifically say it is to "highlight violent civil rights leaders" I believe that the new text books will have racial biases.

Zoe C. said...

In class I was not aware as to the extent to which the textbooks were being rewritten. I think it is absolutely terrible what they are doing. Instead of creating a generation of more tolerant and peaceful beings, they are perhaps creating a generation of more racist and intolerable people. I realize that with some of the changes Texas is trying to make America look better. However, I think it is necessary to understand our past mistakes and study them. It is a crucial part of history, so we do not repeat the same terrible mistakes. We cannot live thinking that everything we do is the right thing, because that would be terribly untrue. I think the changes to the textbooks are just shameful and I am surprised that someone would even allow these changes to be made.

DPark said...

Like a lot of people, "The insistence on adding formation on the Black Panther party to 'highlight violent civil rights leaders' in addition to the non-violent Dr. King" quote really surprised me. The makers of the textbook might have wanted to teach students that civil rights movements were more like violent dissent rallies. To include Dr. King in the "violent rights leaders" is just absurd.

I'm wondering why there seems to be more bias in the reconstruction of US history. I also wonder if other states inserted their skewed biases into their new textbooks. If we were to see a new textbook from Illinois, I hope that we would see less opinionated injections.

Ruchi said...

The point that I found most surprising was the removal of Thomas Jefferson from the thinkers who inspired 18th and 19th Century revolutions," with his replacements being a priest and John Calvin. If this is supposed to eliminate bias, I really doubt how successful it will be. Focusing educational textbooks on religious figures not only just applies to a certain percentage of the population which follows that religion (whereas Thomas Jefferson applies to all of America as a founding father), but it also suggests that certain religions are more socially acceptable than others. It makes me wonder if they have sections in their textbooks on non-Christian religious leaders, and my guess is that they definitely don't.

Q said...

I think the most surprising to me was the one about trying to expose that Germans and Italians were also interned during WWII. I already knew that, and I don't think that exposing it makes the internment any more justified simply because they want to claim it wasn't based on race; they still discriminated against people... I think that no matter what, the way we tell history is going to be biased, but I feel like some of these rewrites are a little extreme

Maeli G. said...
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Maeli G. said...

This is completely and utterly disgusting.

"To dispel the notion that the internment of Japanese was motivated by racism."

My gosh! What garbage! It is not only irresponsible for the great state of Texas to attempt to cover up this dark portion of American history and replace it with a friendlier unreality, but it's downright deceitful! How anyone could target a specific ethnic group, place them in internment, and call it anything other than racism is beyond me. Good goin', Texas Board of Education. Gee wiz.

Caroline C said...

After reading the article I found that is was very interesting that the conservative heads of the Texas Board of Education said that they "are adding balance" to the textbooks. I've never really seen history textbooks that are skewed to the left or right. Most of the changes that they are making are pretty drastic.

I found that the refusal of adding information on significant Latino contributions shocking, like Kevin, Anna, and Molly mentioned above. The word "significant" has to mean something. If it is so significant, why shouldn't they add it? It seems ridiculous to leave something important out of textbooks.

SamGot said...

As said plenty and plenty of times above me, I find this outrageous, but again, understandable. To me, and most others, there honestly can not be a completely unbiased textbook. This example is one that has gone way too far in creating it's own bias, with eliminations and substitutions, but as Molly talked about, maybe they are just over compensating for reading too many "left-wing" books.

Refusing to add information on Latinos, a huge population not only in their state, but the whole country, and choosing to focus on violent civil rights leaders just goes to show that our country still harbors intense racial views. It saddens me really, but I get over it. Because that's just how life is. That's what we've come to expect.

If someone really wants to get an unbiased view on history they're going to have to read every history book written ever to really understand any and every point of view. And that's just not fair.

Madelaine C said...

All of these changes being made by the Texas Board of Education are all completely outrages, as everyone else above has said. After critically reading different textbooks in class, we all know that they are all biased in some way so it is not completely shocking that changes in textbooks would be made to make our government look better.

The one change that really shocked me though was the one about "dispelling the notion that the internment of Japanese-Americans was motivated by racism." I totally agree with Maeli's comment above, it is a lie to argue that the internment of Japanese-Americans was not motivated by racism. America should teach the next generation of school children their country's mistakes rather than covering them up.

Madelaine C said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
nvanderkamp said...

Kind of reminds me of when the ACLU successfully fought on behalf of the "City of Angels" to remove the smallest of crosses from its county seal. Next, they'll attempt to change the actual city name to "Los Secularistos".

The Batman said...

I'm gonna go with "What?!?" This is blatant tyranny of the loud. Texas may be the biggest buyer of textbooks (mostly because they're the biggest continental state) but that doesn't mean that they get to change the way that the rest of the country receives its history, especially when they're putting a political spin on it. They're basically spitting on the freedom of political affiliation that this country grants. Not cool.

Particularly surprising is that insistence of tacking information on the Black Panthers onto Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. What happened to equality and freedom? By highlighting the violence of some groups and showing it with the nonviolence of others, they're attempting to spoil the whole batch, so to speak. Are they trying to say that civil rights was wrong? Because that's certainly what it seems like.

J.D. M. said...

One change that was especially interesting was the the refusal to add any new biographical information on significant Latino contributions to U.S. history. The 2010 census considered removing the hispanic ethnicity before settling on a reordered Latino, Hispanic and Spanish origin.The census stated that "for this census, Hispanic origins are not races".
Texas too, is limiting the publications in their textbooks of important Latinos. For a country that prides itself for its diversity in terms of race, I'm not sure why they decided to refuse the addition of further information on significant Latinos.

MMarin said...

Sam you make a point about morals and the influence of politics on education that is true, but I don't think it quite relates to what I was saying. It is true that some people think morality or truth only come from religion. It is also true that the reason I feel strongly about it is because of my beliefs, as one's view of history depends on interpretation.

But when someone on the board says, "I reject the notion by the left of a constitutional separation of church and state...I have $1,000 for the charity of your choice if you can find it in the Constitution,” it's about a lot more than just differing interpretation. You do not have to look that far in the Constitution to find something that essentially acts as a separation between church and state. For someone to suggest otherwise when they have a great deal of power over what the nation's textbooks contain shows an unbelievable amount of ignorance. It's not just a matter of interpretation, it's a matter of being qualified to hold a highly powerful job in education.

Shirley said...

I must say, I am not all that shocked. I am, at least at the moment, far more interested in knowing what are the other changes they want to make, since these are only the ones Doc Oc saw as the most surprising. perhaps the majority of the changes they want are far more reasonable. I adore playing Devil's Advocate and as of yet refuse to believe that the OVERALL change will be bad. (some parts, such as those deliberately aimed at making past U.S. actions seem les racist, are clearly negative)

Sarah. said...

The one that struck me most was the lost one - "the refusal to add any new biographical information on significant Latino contributions to U.S. History." At the beginning of the year we talked about how textbook authors often have a certain number of words they can devote to a certain topic while constructing the book. Never did I think that people would go as far as to create a law preventing the highlighting of Latino contributions because they thought that they already had "enough". This angered me because a certain race is being pinpointed. If I came from a Latino background I'd be angry because it would make me feel as though that even if I did contribute to the construction of this country's history, my race would prevent people from learning about. I think this refusal may be a reflection upon certain peoples' views on illegal immigrants or immigration all together.